The Beauty of Chemistry: Art, Wonder, and Science by Philip Ball, ISBN-13: 978-0262044417


The Beauty of Chemistry: Art, Wonder, and Science by Philip Ball, ISBN-13: 978-0262044417

[PDF eBook eTextbook]

  • Publisher: ‎ The MIT Press (May 11, 2021)
  • Language: ‎ English
  • 392 pages
  • ISBN-10: ‎ 0262044412
  • ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0262044417

Chemistry, more than any other science, is a confluence of the practical and the sublime. It’s best known in the first of these guises: as the prosaic source of the substances all around us, by which our lives are increasingly shaped for better or worse. We are apt, like ungrateful children, to take for granted the dyes that clothe us in fashionable and flattering shades, the artificial scents that hide our own, the medicines that relieve our aches and ailments, the tiny slices of high- tech semiconducting alloys in our smartphones. We grumble (and so we should, although not at chemistry) about the pollutants in our air and water, the plastics clogging our rivers and seas. Chemistry gives us the fabrics of our existence: polyesters and polycarbonates, touchscreens and batteries, non- stick pans and non- drip paint. We depend on its bounty but fear its baneful influence: it is both problem and cure, nemesis and savior.

The chemical sublime is less familiar, but this book will introduce you to it. We will show some of the astonishing beauty that resides in chemical products and processes. This beauty too often passes unseen, or at least unacknowledged as chemical in nature. We can marvel at the delicacy of a snowflake, or the glory of a flower and its heady fragrance, while failing to realize that chemistry is at work here every bit as much as it is in oil refineries and pharmaceutical plants.

There doesn’t seem to be a word for people who take delight in stuff, but there ought to be. We propose that they be called ousiophiles, from the Greek ousia, meaning essence or substance. Chemists are usually ousiophiles: they delight in tangible material, in texture and heft, in luster and pliancy. They want to touch and feel things, to smell and taste them. It’s in this impulse that a love of chemistry resides; people who have it are often drawn to study the subject.

Many scientists find a genuine aesthetic pleasure in such abstract reasoning. They look at the periodic table of the elements, and they see beauty. You might share that response— or you might not. Maybe it takes a particular frame of mind to equate intellectual understanding with beauty.

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